Pittsburgh council president challenger owes thousands in delinquent taxes
Ken Wolfe thinks he has a fair chance to unseat Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus — his former boss — in the 2019 Democratic primary despite owing thousands in delinquent taxes to the city, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh Public School District, Pennsylvania and the federal government.
Wolfe, 43, of Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood, said he plans to run against Kraus and is in the process of setting up a political action committee to start raising campaign funds.
Wolfe, who previously served as Kraus’ chief of staff, has a history of skirting local real estate taxes dating to the 1990s, according to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas delinquent tax docket. Three pages of online court filings include liens for more than $63,000 in back taxes and fees dating to 2006. In addition to local real estate taxes, documents include claims for state income tax in 2004 and federal income taxes from 2004-08 and in 2011.
Wolf attributed the problems to financial difficulties stemming from a failed real estate business and a dead partner and vowed to repay all of the money over time. He said he’s been paying the bills down and currently owes around $30,000.
“I’m a poor kid,” he said. “I don’t make a lot of money, so my priorities have to be in staying alive and eating. Unfortunately some things like taxes have to get put on the back burner.”
He thinks voters in Council District 3, many of whom are poverty-stricken, Wolfe said, can relate. The district includes 12 neighborhoods including Pittsburgh’s South Side and South Hills and part of Oakland.
“It’s my life experience,” he said. “That’s what I bring to the table. I know that I can’t afford certain things, but unfortunately, I have to live with that, and I’m working towards paying those off. I don’t really think that is going to make that much of a difference for people who live in the district.”
Kraus, 64, who will seek a fourth term in office, declined to comment on Wolfe’s tax problems.
“I have been blessed with the best job I could have ever hoped for,” he said. “Serving the people of the 3rd Council District and the city of Pittsburgh has been my life’s highest honor, and I will be asking my constituents for their continued support in serving them once more.”
Five city council members, including Kraus, are up for re-election next year along with Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb. The list includes Darlene Harris of Spring Hill; Corey O’Connor of Swisshelm Park; Deb Gross of Highland Park and Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze.
Harris, 65, is the only other candidate with competition so far. Troy Hill Democrat Jeff Betten, 32, general manager of a local music label, has announced his candidacy on a web page, bettenforpittsburgh.com.
City Council representatives serve four years. Their 2018 salary is $66,371.
Wolf served as Kraus’s chief of staff during the councilman’s first years in office. He’s also served as a legislative aide to state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, and is a current member of the city’s 18th Ward Democratic Committee.
He chaired the Pittsburgh police Zone 3 Public Safety Council until recently stepping down. He’s a graduate of Carrick High School. He and his wife, Jessica, are expecting their first child early next year.
Wolfe said if elected he would focus on basic constituent services, including cleaning up vacant lots and making sure sidewalks are clear of snow during winter.
“I like Bruce. I do, but things change,” he said. “He’s not making more friends than he is enemies at this point. The vacant lots that the city owns and the sidewalks that aren’t cleared are still not cleared after 12 years.”
He criticized Kraus for a Sociable City plan designed to quell drunken behavior in the East Carson Street bar and restaurant district that cost in excess of $400,000.
“What’s changed?” he said. “The quality of life hasn’t improved immensely in the South Side. People are still leaving for elsewhere.”
Kraus declined to comment on the criticism.
“I want to be as inclusive and empowering as I can for people that may not have been involved in the political process,” Wolfe said. “I want to bring them into the fold and have their voices heard.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.